The housing timebomb is ticking

Graphic of a stylised house with red roof set on grass with a tree.Australia isn’t the only place where a change to home design is being demanded by various advocacy groups and social policy organisations. The HoMe Coalition in the UK is making similar demands for all new homes to be accessible for everyone. The UK experience with accessibility as Part M of the building code shows how the absolute minimum, that is a level entry and a toilet on the ground floor, is insufficient for being able to live safely and comfortably as people age. So a review is needed.

Anna Dixon, chief executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, which co-chairs the coalition, said: 

“Too many people are today living in homes that limit their independence, as we face a dangerous shortage of homes that are accessible and adaptable. While it’s not inevitable, the likelihood is that most of us will experience disability or difficulties with activities of daily living at some point in our later life. And with more of us living for longer, this dire lack of accessible homes represents a ticking timebomb.”

Dixon also said that keeping people safe at home means we need homes with accessible features. It prevents avoidable admissions to hospital and institutional care: “Every £1 spent on housing adaptations are worth more than £2 in care savings and quality of life gains.” 

HoME (Housing Made for Everyone) is predicting a “dangerous shortage” of suitable homes in the future, with only one new accessible home to be built for every 15 people over the age of 65 by 2030. And that’s in urban areas – it’s much less in rural areas. HoME has an Accessible Housing Charter with seven actions including all new homes to be accessible .

See also briefing paper: Homes and ageing in England by the department of public health. At the end it has case studies that show the costs and savings of doing renovations.

Creating Safe Space for Everyone

A street scene showing a wide footpath and a row of shops in the suburbsHow many urban planners think about accessibility and disability from the outset? Some, no doubt. Urban planners also have to think about personal safety – it’s a core concern. But what about safety for people with disability? Do community norms play a role in design decisions? An article in The Conversation discusses this issue and begins:

“Creating safe and secure urban spaces is a core concern for city managers, urban planners and policy workers. Safety is a slippery concept to pin down, not least because it is a subjective experience. It incorporates our perceptions of places and memories, but also norms in society about who is expected to use spaces in the city, and who is considered to be out of place.”

So it is much more than designing out crime. Different population groups experience safety in different ways – much more nuanced that matching with crime statistics. A study from the University College Cork has looking at this issue in more detail. An overview is in an article in The Conversation by Claire Edwards.

The study looked at three cities in Ireland and some obvious places where people with disability felt unsafe were transport hubs, bars and shopping centres. The Conversation article concludes:

“Urban safety is as much about changing social relations as it is about technical fixes. Disabled people’s experiences show us that it is only by challenging assumptions about who has a right to inhabit urban space that we can create more inclusive, just and safer societies.”

The title of the article is, The experiences of people with disabilities show we need a new understanding of urban safety.  

 

Age Friendly Cities: Manchester and Brussels

A city square in Belgium showing heritage architecture. People are milling about in the square.The WHO Age Friendly Cities and Communities framework remains a robust method for creating age-friendly places. We can learn a lot from cities that signed up to the WHO Global Network that began in 2007. A book chapter comparing Brussels and Manchester shows that different policy approaches result in quite different outcomes.

The first part of the chapter covers introductory material and detail about the 8 domains of the WHO program. The interesting part, especially for local government, is the comparison of approaches and outcomes for Brussels and Manchester. Brussels, for example, focused on social housing for older people and street safety. Manchester focused on lifetime neighbourhoods and quality of life. Manchester was more inclusive of different ethnic backgrounds than Brussels which also has a diverse population. In short, Brussels was about keeping people safe, and Manchester was about living life. The paper goes on to discuss the barriers to implementing the programme and developing age-friendly policies.
There are some good recommendations at the end of this paper which was published in 2015. 

The chapter title is, Developing Age-Friendly Cities: Case Studies from Brussels and Manchester and Implications for Policy and Practice. It begins on page 277.This chapter is one of several interesting papers in Environmental Gerontology in Europe and Latin America.  

 

Liveable, accessible, sustainable and biophilic: which to choose?

An older man and woman are walking away from the camera down a street. They are wearing backpacks and holding hands.The main aspects of sustainability – social, economic, cultural and environmental – are all opportunities for designers. But what to consider and how to design? An article focusing on ageing populations looks at design for all, universal design, inclusive design, human centred design, and biophilic design. The authors conclude that universal design and biophilic design create the best outcomes.

The article covers many of the well known facts in this field of research, and addresses the different design approaches and terminology. The concept of “sustainable ageing” is discussed in terms of well-being, economic inclusion and the living environment.  After examining all the different approaches the authors conclude:

“However, considering the sustainability requirements, including the circular economy and social cohesion aspects, the most adequate and flexible approach is the universal design concept. The universal design concept, encouraging diversity of users and social integration, is favorable for the implementation of healthy aging and active aging concepts. Moreover, universal design is applicable in the aging at home concept: the design solutions of buildings and environment can be from the start adapted to the needs of the elderly, avoiding the necessity of further reconstructions as the users age.”

A graphic showing a Venn diagram with sustainable ageing in the centre. It is overlapped by social, environmental and economic sustainability.

The title of the article is, “Aging, Living Environment, and Sustainability: What Should be Taken into Account?  it is a well considered discussion that draws together the many approaches to designing for a diverse population. 

Graphic showing the links between environmental, social and econocmic sustainability to create a suitable living environment for older people.

Abstract: The aging population presents numerous challenges and the design and management of living environments are not an exception. This literature review and analysis brings together topics related to the living environment of the aging population and the concept of sustainability. The article presents the review of the existing design concepts that are applied to planning the environment for the elderly, including (i) design for all, (ii) universal design, and (iii) inclusive design. Furthermore, this review highlights the aspects of sustainability and the peculiarities of the aging population that should be taken into account in the design and management of their living environment. Key points related to sustainable aging are highlighted, and the possibility of complementing the existing design concepts with the concept of biophilic design is proposed in order to strengthen their social, psychological, and ecological aspects.

The graphics are reproduced from the article.

Home for Good

A vase of purple and white flowers sits on a small table with a cup of tea, an open book and a pair of glasses.What is a home? It’s so much more than a shelter from the elements. The concept of home gives us a place in the world. It underpins our identity, our relationships and our understanding of who we are and where we fit in the scheme of things. It is intrinsic to the human condition.Yet it is overlooked in the development of policies to support housing provision.

Home for Good is a policy brief “intended to restore the idea of home as both a psychological and social asset to our discourse on housing, rather than just a financial asset. It is specifically concerned with the role of the home as we age, positing that successful ageing is dependent on a person’s access to a home that provides security, community, safety and autonomy”. The policy brief poses a policy framework for a national approach to providing older Australians with homes that meet their social, emotional, environmental, and psychological needs.

The policy brief says nothing about the design of homes, but it does tap into the real meaning of home for many older people – the social equity. Hence the reticence to move to age segregated living. The article can be downloaded from the Analysis & Policy Observatory. It’s by Emma Dawson and Myfan Jordan of Per Capita. Easy to read.

 

A non-Western look at inclusive cities

The very tall tower buildings form the city skyline in Dubai.The story of Dubai, as with any living city, continues to be written day by day. And that includes disability rights and inclusion. “Building the Inclusive City: Governance, Access and the Urban Transformation of Dubai” is a book that provides a contemporary history of disability in city planning from a non-Western perspective. From the abstract:

“Three insights inform the author’s approach. First, disability research, much like other urban or social issues, must be situated in a particular place. Second, access and inclusion forms a key part of both local and global planning issues. Third, a 21st century planning education should take access and inclusion into consideration by applying a disability lens to the empirical, methodological, and theoretical advances of the field. By bridging theory and practice, this book provides new insights on inclusive city planning and comparative urban theory. This book should be read as part of a larger struggle to define and assert access; it’s a story of how equity and justice are central themes in building the cities of the future and of today.”

Building the Inclusive City: Governance, Access and the Urban Transformation of Dubai by Victor Santiago Pineda is available for purchase in the usual places, but is also available as open access on ResearchGate

Editor’s note: I travelled to Dubai in 2015 and found much of the new infrastructure very accessible. I was impressed with the air conditioned bus stop shelters. 

See here: I want to go shopping

A close up of cakes, bread and buns in a bakery shop.Shopping is a common human activity. It gets us out of the house and mobilising. It helps connect us to our neighbourhood. But the shopping experience of people with vision impairment is another matter. They are limited to familiar places where they can confidently and independently purchase what they need. This means there are no spontaneous shopping choices. So is this good for retail business and the private market?

The “blind district” of Lithuania is a place created during Soviet rule. It provides fertile ground for research on this topic. It also allows comparison with other parts of the city and the differences in shopping experiences by people with vision impairment. An article published in the Journal of Public Space covers the history of the blind district, disability rights, participation in the market and urban accessibility. The second half of the article is where the research project appears. A novel approach to this topic.

The title of the article is, When Accessibility of Public Space Excludes: Shopping experience of people with vision impairments. by Ieva Eskyté, University of Leeds.

Abstract  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) recognises access to consumer goods and services in the mainstream private market as essential for full participation in society. Nevertheless, people with impairments rarely enjoy the same rights and consumer experience as non-disabled individuals. This paper argues that (in)accessibility of public space is an important factor shaping how accessible the private market is for people who do not ‘fit’ conventional norms and standards. It demonstrates how category-driven accessibility provisions in some geographical areas and not in others segregate disabled people within certain providers, create social and consumer isolation, and become a marker that accentuates difference and separation between disabled consumers who live in accessible districts, and the rest of the population. To illustrate the case, the paper uses empirical evidence from mystery shopping in retail outlets and qualitative interviews with people with vision impairments who live in the ‘Blind district’ in Lithuania. The district was developed by the Soviet Union (1949-1990) to boost people with vision impairments’ participation in the socialist labour market economy.

 

Gender-Inclusive Urban Planning

Front cover of the Handbook. Blue background and white text.Why does gender inclusive urban design and planning matter? The World Bank’s new Handbook for Gender-Inclusive Urban Planning and Design gives some answers. A city that works well for women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities of all ages and differing levels of capability supports economic and social inclusion. Gender inclusive planning and design is:

    • Participatory: actively including the voices of women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities
    • Integrated: adopting a holistic, cross-cutting approach that centres gender throughout and promotes citizen-city relationship building
    • Universal: meeting the needs of women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities of all ages and abilities
    • Knowledge-building: seeking out and sharing robust, meaningful new data on gender equity
    • Power-building: growing the capacity and influence of under-represented groups in key decisions
    • Invested-in: committing the necessary finances and expertise to follow through on intentional gender equity goals

“Meeting these goals requires a fundamental shift in thinking and approach, and in particular a commitment to participatory processes, integrated approaches, Universal Design, building knowledge and power among under-represented groups; and financial investment.” Chapters cover the rationale for gender inclusion, foundations of planning and design, processes and project guidelines, case studies and further resources.

Urban planning and design shape the environment around us — and that shapes how we live, work, play, move, and rest. This handbook highlights the relationships between gender inequality, the built environment, and urban planning and design. Best practices for urban planning are included.

Available via institutional access from The World Bank library website.   

The 18MB file can be downloaded directly or purchase as an e-book from Amazon.  

An article in the Latin American Post summarises some of the content. 

 

Age-Friendly city or no place to grow old?

WHO age friendly logo of 8 petals showing the 8 domains of lifeAge Friendly Cities has its founding concepts in healthy ageing. Well if it’s healthy for older people it’s healthy for everyone. These cities should be walkable, compact and have infrastructure that supports liveability. But planning laws haven’t adapted to this. They continue to address ageing in terms of age-segregated living arrangements. 

Canada was at the forefront of the development of the WHO Age Friendly Cities program in 2006. But that hasn’t been enough to overcome entrenched planning and development processes. No Place to Grow Old: How Canadian Suburbs Can Become Age-Friendly, found that although planners and others have concerns about an ageing population, their thinking hasn’t adapted. Consequently, little has changed in the last ten years. 

The survey found that older people were still seen as a special-needs group rather than establishing inclusive policy solutions. The report makes some useful recommendations and the findings are applicable to any urban area in any location.

You can find a list of Australian cities or communities that are members of the WHO Global Network of Age Friendly Cities on the WHO website. You can also find out how your community can become a member of the Global Network.

The graphic above depicts the 8 domains of life that need to be considered in making a community age-friendly: Housing, Transportation, Social Participation, Respect and Social Inclusion, Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, Community Support and Health Services, Communication and Information, and Civic Participation and Employment. An argument was made at the International Federation of Ageing Conference in 2016 that housing should be in the centre of the the petals as it is the central part of everyone’s life.

Consumers, care and ageism

A man sits on a bench in a garden near a building.Are customers the same as citizens? Consumers are part of the market. Citizens are part of society. There are consumer rights and then there are human rights. Older people are treated as consumers of specialised housing products. They are not treated as citizens in their own homes. This is one of the messages to come out if the Royal Commission.

In The Fifth Estate article, Willow Aliento says of the care and retirement living sectors, “…the inquiry found that there had been a shift towards thinking about the aged care sector as an “industry” with “customers”, rather than a social service for older citizens.” This is an important factor because this approach dehumanises residents. Even the retirement living sector is fundamentally ableist because they only advertise “active living”. 

The article discusses how poor design of the physical environments with large, noisy facilities and poor visual layouts contributes to residents’ reduced quality of life and care. it also cover issues of downsizing and pension and assets tests. Complex issues are tackled well in this article titled, How ageist, ableism and inequity are creating “shelter hell’ for older people